All Blacks tour bolter hopefuls out of luck

TAINE RANDELL
Last updated 05:00 10/11/2012
Tawera Kerr-Barlow
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BLACK CALL-UP: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, after impressive play with the Chiefs and Waikato this season, is set to be named as the third halfback in the All Blacks squad.

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OPINION: The days of sudden elevation from the NPC to test rugby are gone, and steady progression through Super Rugby is probably better for the players anyway.

Steve Hansen's logic of not picking new All Blacks out of the national provincial championship is spot on.

It looks like the days of the bolters for the end-of-year tours are gone.

The selection for the 32-man squad that will be named tomorrow has been pretty well flagged. There will be few surprises, if any.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow has been lined up for the third halfback position all year - included in the All Blacks wider training squad after his good Super Rugby form with the title-winning Chiefs.

The third hooker is the only really contentious position and we might see a new All Black there, in the form of Dane Coles. But his inclusion would be based on his improving form for the Hurricanes over four seasons rather than his being a star with Wellington.

He would get his chance at the expense of Hika Elliott, a hooker who has been in and out of the All Blacks mix but never able to shift the dynamic duo of Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore.

Hansen says the gap between the NPC and test rugby is now too big for someone to be plucked from there and given a black jersey. I agree wholeheartedly.

Super Rugby has taken such precedence that the NPC has declined in quality and in its ability to promote players into the test arena.

I'd argue that the last guy to successfully pull that off is Richie McCaw, who stepped up from the Canterbury ranks as a 20-year-old in 2001 and took command of the All Blacks No 7 jersey. But we all know now that McCaw, with his ability and maturity, was a freak.

Take a look at some other players who had that sort of challenge thrust on them. Probably the most controversial was Isaia Toeava, who got an All Blacks tour after just eight matches for Auckland and had to wear the "special project" tag as a 19-year-old.

His instant elevation seemed to do more harm than good. That tag became something of a joke as time wore on and although no-one doubted Toeava's abilities, he was never really able to become a regular in the starting XV and his greatest value lay in his utility qualities. He left as a World Cup winner, but his departure at 25 was premature and certainly not with the tag of an All Blacks great.

Jerome Kaino was another youngster thrown into the All Blacks too young, in 2004. It wasn't until four years later that he was able to establish himself, having survived the knocking machine and proven himself in the Super Rugby ranks.

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We have an abundance of talented young players in New Zealand and that puts pressure on the whole system, especially with our dominance of the world under-20 championship.

But we need to remember they are just youngsters and they need to work their way up.

The way the NPC has evolved now, we are seeing semi-professionals playing against fulltime pros and that needs to be taken into account when you are looking at higher honours.

There has been a lot of talk about a player like Auckland fullback Charles Piutau, who has been a standout in the NPC.

To me he looks like a very good sevens player who is enjoying the attacking nature of both his team and the NPC which has had some softer defence. He has a look of Counties star Tim Nanai-Williams about him.

It will be interesting to see how he goes in the hurly-burly of Super Rugby with the Blues, and I'm sure that's when Hansen and his selectors will be casting their eyes over him.

The other reasons for a lack of bolters in the All Blacks are that a fair few young players have already been successfully integrated this year and, in reality, this isn't a development tour. It is just four tests and until they get to a situation where there are some midweek games, I can't see the need for raw talent to be exposed.

As it is, taking 32 players for four games seems a bit of a luxury. I can see a fair few guys doing a fair bit of training but then standing around doing nothing, possibly getting one game in a month.

Don't forget, there's a New Zealand Maori team to be selected tomorrow too, for three games in Britain while the All Blacks tour north.

That's looking like a squad where there will be a few surprises and one where the All Blacks selectors may even extend their influence.

Taine Randell is a former All Blacks captain

- Sunday News

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